After being shut out in Game 2 of the NLDS, the Milwaukee Brewers find themselves in a best-of-three series with the Atlanta Braves. With the pivotal Game 3 set to take place at Truist Park on Monday, the confidence many Brewers’ fans had after Game 1 has quickly shifted to fear of bowing out of the playoffs before the NLCS.
The urgency that comes with a short series it heightened when the teams split the first two games. For Milwaukee, there are a few concerning questions to be answered with two wins deciding the fate of either team.
With that said, there are five key questions for the Brewers heading into Atlanta.
Should Eduardo Escobar start on the bench?
The switch-hitting infielder slashed .268/.342/.458/.800 in 48 regular season games with the Brewers. He was also one of the few hitters to swing the bat well heading into the postseason (7-for-13). However, he has gone 1-for-7 with 4 strikeouts with some truly poor at-bats in the first two NLDS games. He isn’t alone in that department, but the other options may be better.
With righty Ian Anderson on the mound in Game 3, it was already likely that Rowdy Tellez would play first base. Obviously, Tellez was the position player MVP in Game 1 with his game-winning two-run home run and his game-changing double play in the first frame. There’s no reason he wouldn’t be one of the corner infield starters on Monday.
The bigger question would be if Luis Urias should start at third base over Escobar. Urias had a pair of hits, scalded a ball up the middle, and drove a ball to the fence in Game 2. He has easily had the best, most consistent at-bats of any of the Brewers in the series, and they are desperate for offense. You could also argue Urias brings more home run potential at this point. Though Escobar had five more dingers than Urias during the season, Escobar only hit six with Milwaukee and just one in his last 22 contests.
Which Freddy Peralta will show up in Game 3?
There was the pre-IL Peralta who was a worthy Cy Young candidate; then there was the post-IL Peralta who struggled to find his groove again. No one questions his talent, desire and ability to shut down an offense. The question is whether or not you get the ace-like performance the Brewers likely need.
Prior to the IL stint, Peralta owned a 2.45 ERA through 23 games (22 starts). Post-IL, he had a 4.70 ERA (3.90 FIP) in 23 innings over five starts. Even looking at a few outings before going to the IL, Peralta would have a 4.71 ERA over his final eight starts of the regular season, including giving up seven runs on 12 hits in 11.1 frames in his last two starts (5.56 ERA).
The hope is that Peralta’s talent is what wins out, and that some time off puts him at full strength for his Game 3 start. The right-handed heavy lineup of the Braves certainly plays into the value of Peralta’s slider, and he always has the chance to completely shut down an offense. This may have been a tougher decision than many thought, as there was a strong argument to be made that Eric Lauer should get the assignment.
One thing going for Peralta is his lone start against the Braves, though it was way back in May: 6 innings, 0 runs, 2 hits, 8 strikeouts, 1 walk.
Is Avisail Garcia hurting worse than anyone knows?
Garcia has looked mostly terrible at the plate in the NLDS, going 1-for-7 with five strikeouts thus far. Not only has he not been productive, he has been way behind most fastballs and failed to destroy a couple of meat balls late in Game 2 as he represented the tying run at the plate (see pitches 2 and 3 below).
The Brewers had been trying to rest Garcia’s ailing back over the last few weeks of the regular season. On top of back spasms, there was word of hamstring issues in early September as well. Though he has been in the lineup the first two games of the NLDS, he has not looked like himself and is likely still battling through pain to play.
But what can the Brewers do? Would Tyrone Taylor at 100% be a better option? Likely not. They could move him down in the order, but there aren’t many other options as far as consistent run producers. Seems like, even if he is hurting, the Brewers just need to hope Garcia can figure out a way to make it work and find a way to come up with a couple big hits when they’re needed most.
How aggressive should Craig Counsell be with his bullpen in Atlanta?
It’s one thing when you have Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff on the mound. It’s another when a somewhat-scuffling Peralta and a lefty in Lauer take the hill. Manager Craig Counsell could be looking at quicker hooks in Games 3 and 4 with the series in the balance and less “proven” starters with the ball.
The entire bullpen will be fully rested on Monday, meaning Counsell could look more to his 2018 NLDS strategy of utilizing a bunch of relievers early and often to play the matchups. Even if a starter appears to be cruising, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Counsell pull them before facing the lineup for a third time.
With Aaron Ashby and Adrian Houser able to cover multiple innings, and right-handed slider throwers in Jake Cousins and Hunter Strickland to (hopefully) neutralize the Braves’ right-handed power, Counsell may choose to be more aggressive in his bullpen usage.
Will the road be exactly what the Brewers need to play up to their potential?
Milwaukee had the second-best road record with a franchise best 50-31 mark away from American Family Field. While the offense was slightly better in away parks (388 runs scored compared to 350 runs at home), it was the pitching and defense that truly shined.
The Crew owned a 3.28 ERA on the road (3.70 ERA at home), held opponents to a slash line of .211/.288/.349/.637, and better K/BB ratio than at home. Perhaps this isn’t the news fans would want to hear, wondering if the offense could be the ones to find more success on the road.
The good news is, that despite scoring fewer runs on the road for the season, Milwaukee’s offensive stats are actually better when they bat first. On the road, the Brewers team average is 22 points higher, they slug .408 (compared to .384 at home), and an OPS 28 points better.
So while there is no guarantee the road will automatically provide the boost the Brewers are looking for, if the club can continue to do what they did all season away from home, Milwaukee should find a way to at least win one in Atlanta to force a Game 5.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference